OxyContin is a narcotic painkiller in which the active ingredient is oxycodone. As a non-combination painkiller, OxyContin was originally produced in extended release form. This formulation contained a large amount of oxycodone that was released in a time-restricted manner, over the course of the day for around-the-clock pain management. As a result of the euphoric high that all narcotic painkillers produce, those who sought to abuse OxyContin for its effects started what has now become an epidemic in painkiller abuse and addiction.
Most commonly, individuals would crush OxyContin pills and snort the powder, or dissolve it with water and inject the drug intravenously for a full effect of the oxycodone in one hit. As it was commonly dubbed, “hillbilly heroin,” this trend was most popular in rural and suburban areas of the United States, and continues to be a major social issue that has spread to every corner of the country. Although a recent reformulation of OxyContin in 2010 required its manufacturer, Perdue Pharmaceuticals, to make it more abuse deterrent, and according to Perdue, the new formulation of OxyContin has three abuse deterrent qualities, which are:
- The pills are more difficult to crush
- Even when crushed, they maintain their extended release qualities
- OxyContin forms a gel when dissolved, making it difficult to inject
Some reports have indicated that the new formulation of OxyContin has had little effect on opiate addiction as a whole, as many who had been abusing the drug have simply substituted OxyContin with other painkillers like Dilaudid or switched over to using heroin.
Dangers of OxyContin Addiction
Although the formulation of OxyContin has changed to make the drug more abuse resistant, many are still able to abuse it from leftover supplies of the original formulation available through street dealers or online pharmacies, all of which operate outside the United States, and in countries that have not adopted the requirement of the new abuse-deterrent formulation.
When OxyContin is abused, it has intensified effects that are similar across all opioids, including heroin. Some of the effects of OxyContin abuse are as follows:
- Intense euphoria
- Droopy or heavy eyelids
- Intermittent periods of awake and asleep (nodding off)
- Heavy arms and legs
- Slowed reactions
- Increased tolerance
- Withdrawal symptoms when not using OxyContin
- Constricted or pinpoint pupils (especially in dim light)
When used as instructed, OxyContin can be very effective in pain management, but the euphoric high it produces has made its use and availability a double-edged sword. The qualities cited for its effectiveness are the same that produce millions of addicts every year.
Additionally, OxyContin is exponentially more dangerous when it is used with other painkillers and/or depressant drugs like benzodiazepines and alcohol, as all depressant drugs enhance the effects of each other, and can lead to devastating health consequences such as:
- Respiratory depression and failure
- Severely reduced heart rate
- Unconsciousness and/or coma
- Seizures or convulsions
How Does OxyContin Addiction Happen?
OxyContin can be used one of two ways – either medically, or non-medically, and either one can result in addiction, when an individual is reckless or compulsive in his or her use of the drug. The way this generally occurs is in stages of increased tolerance, and drug seeking behavior.
Drug Seeking Behaviors With Medical Use of OxyContin
Although most doctors can accept increase in tolerance as a medical justification for higher and/or more frequent doses of OxyContin, when that tolerance is coupled with drug seeking behavior, it is typically a clear indicator of a developing addiction. Some examples of drug seeking behaviors, despite having a legitimate prescription for OxyContin can be:
- Taking more OxyContin than prescribed without medical permission to do so
- Doctor Shopping – obtaining prescriptions for OxyContin from multiple doctors
- Skipping doses of OxyContin to justify taking more the next dose
- Becoming irate or agitated when questioned about OxyContin use
- Requesting early refills of OxyContin because allotted amount has been consumed prior to refill date
- Abusing other depressant drugs with OxyContin for the purpose of enhancing its effects
- Taking OxyContin via unintended routes of administration (i.e. snorting or injection)
- Seeking to obtain OxyContin from friends and family
This kind of drug seeking behavior can be an indication of a developing addiction, and at a minimum, OxyContin abuse. Despite the fact that an individual may have originally acquired OxyContin through a legitimate prescription, addiction can still develop, and having a prescription for OxyContin does not excuse addiction and the destructive behaviors associated with it.
Drug Seeking Behaviors With Non-Medical Use of OxyContin
Any non-medical use of OxyContin (or any prescription drug) is illegal and considered to be abuse. Although OxyContin is frequently used in social environments and among friends, all non-medical use of this drug is dangerous and carries with it serious risks of overdose and addiction. There may be a number of ways in which OxyContin is obtained for non-medical use. Some of these methods include
- Online pharmacies
- Friends and family members with or without permission
- Street level dealers
- Pill mills
When individuals who use OxyContin non-medically engage in drug seeking behavior, observable behaviors may be as follows:
- Selling and/or pawning cherished possessions for money to illegally purchase OxyContin
- Theft, fraud or forgery to get money to purchase OxyContin from illegal sources
- Frequent emergency room visits to get ER physicians to prescribe OxyContin for made-up ailments and complaints of pain
- Intentional self- injury to get prescriptions for OxyContin
- Frequent disappearances and absences from social or family gatherings to obtain more OxyContin
Additional signs of OxyContin abuse and addiction can include:
- Increased and extreme need for privacy (i.e locking doors)
- Track marks (scars at injection sites) on arms, hands, feet, legs, and neck, where OxyContin has been injected
- Paraphernalia such as spoons, needles, lighters, leftover powder from crushed OxyContin
- Frequently appearing intoxicated
- Change in appearance and personal hygiene
- Change in friends (suddenly associating with known drug users and/or people with questionable reputations)
- Increased isolation from friends and loved ones
- Unexplained financial problems
OxyContin Withdrawal and Treatment
Because OxyContin is an opioid, it has many of the same effects as heroin, and the same is true for withdrawal symptoms when an addicted individual stops or drastically reduces consumption of OxyContin. OxyContin addiction produces psychological and physical dependence, both of which can combine to create grueling and sometimes severe withdrawal symptoms when OxyContin use is ceased. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms are:
- Muscle pain and spasms
- Abdominal pain
- High Fever
- Extreme anxiety
- Goose bumps
- Cold sweats
- Intense cravings
These symptoms are not life-threatening, and are usually preceded by initial signs, which include autonomic nervous system responses like yawning and sneezing. Although these symptoms are not particularly dangerous, they are extremely uncomfortable and difficult to endure. Most often, addicted individuals attempting to stop their use of OxyContin will seek the help of a detox facility to do so. In this drug-free environment, addicts can be monitored to ensure the avoidance of medical complications, and be given treatment to ease the more severe symptoms and facilitate sleep during the detox process. Typically, OxyContin detox can take 5-14 days, but this depends heavily on the individual, his or her health, and whether or not other drugs have been abused in addition to OxyContin.
Once OxyContin has been removed from the body during detox, addicts are strongly encouraged to attend some kind of addiction treatment program. The type of program that may be most effective varies based on individual needs, spiritual belief system, and preference. Over the last decade, addiction treatment has become individualized, offering treatment programs that are as diverse as the individuals who need them. If you, or a loved one are struggling with OxyContin addiction, please call and speak with a trained counselor about how to determine the most effective course of addiction treatment for yourself or your addicted loved one. Addiction treatment does work, and only requires an individual be ready to receive the help, and a program that best identifies the needs of the individual. Call us now and let us help you narrow down your options for the best chance for a long-lasting recovery and sustained sobriety.